Fighting has intensified in Libya as troops loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi have launched a massive counter-offensive against a number of rebel-held towns. The BBC reports Libyan government forces are advancing toward the oil port of Ras Lanuf armed with tanks, artillery, military jets and helicopters. The town of Bin Jawad, 30 miles from Ras Lanuf, has already fallen to forces loyal to Gaddafi. The United Nations estimates almost 200,000 people have now fled the violence in Libya. Earlier today, the United Nations called for $160 million to cover the needs of those who have fled Libya, as well as others who remained trapped in the country.
Several prominent U.S. senators have voiced support for the United States and its allies to set up a no-fly zone over Libya. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) spoke on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Senator John Kerry: “One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time. I don’t think this is going to be a long-term kind of thing, frankly.”
Prominent Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona, are also backing a no-fly zone. However, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress last week that he had concerns about the idea.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “If it’s ordered, we can do it. But the reality is — and people — there’s a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options. And let’s just call a spade a spade: a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone.”
In news from Saudi Arabia, the country’s Council of Senior Clerics has banned all public protests. The decision was announced following a demonstration Friday calling for an end of discrimination against the country’s Shiite minority. Human rights groups say at least 26 Shiites have been arrested in recent days.
The unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has helped push the price of oil up by 20 percent in the past month. At the pump, gas prices average $3.50 per gallon nationwide, up 78 cents from a year ago. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff William Daley said the Obama administration is considering tapping into the country’s 727-million-barrel U.S. strategic oil reserves.
The nation’s official unemployment rate has fallen to 8.9 percent as employers added 192,000 jobs in February. While the unemployment rate is slowly decreasing, economists say it will still take years for the jobless rate to return to pre-recession rates. According to former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, the economy would need to add 300,000 jobs every month until 2014 in order for the jobless rate to drop back down to six percent. Meanwhile, a new study by the National Employment Law Project (see PDF) shows that most of these newly created jobs pay significantly lower wages than the jobs eliminated after the Wall Street financial crash.
President Obama’s new Chief of Staff, William Daley, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press for the first time since taking his new post. Up until recently, Daley was a top executive at JPMorgan Chase. On Sunday, Daley refused to say that any Wall Street executives should serve jail time for their role in the crisis that caused the economic meltdown.
David Gregory: “Is it illegitimate for people to say that some of those CEOs on Wall Street should have gone to jail?”
William Daley: “Well, I — look at, I don’t know if it’s illegitimate or not. People have a right to say what they want. But I think if you’re an elected official, you should allow the justice system to take over and move forward. And when there are prosecutions, that’s up to that system. Politicians should not get involved.”
In Madison, Wisconsin, up to 15,000 people gathered on Saturday for another large protest opposing Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to end collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Protests are being organized across the country to protect union rights and to oppose massive budget cuts. Trenton, New Jersey, saw its largest protest ever on Saturday. Some 35,000 teachers, police officers and state workers gathered in the Capitol on Saturday to oppose Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed $29.4 billion budget. In Nevada, more than 500 student protesters and supporters came together on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday to take a stand against Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed higher education cuts. In Florida, demonstrators are preparing for a protest on Tuesday against Gov. Rick Scott’s budget plan that calls for cutting $4.6 billion in state spending, phasing out corporate income taxes and eliminating well over 8,000 jobs from state agencies.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has arrived in Afghanistan just days after a NATO air strike killed nine Afghan boys, all under the age of 15. On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected an apology from U.S. General David Petraeus for the deaths. Karzai said that civilian casualties are a main cause of the worsening relationship between Afghanistan and the United States. Meanwhile, hundreds of people took to the streets of Kabul on Sunday to protest against the killing of the Afghan boys.
Afghan schoolgirl, Azada: “The international community are witnesses to those killed in the NATO operation, but they are not really paying attention to this. We want to raise this issue.”
In Cairo, hundreds of Egyptians stormed the headquarters of the nation’s secret police, seizing mounds of secret documents and evidence of torture. McClatchy newspapers reports some former prisoners sobbed as they saw their old cells, recalling electric shocks and severe beatings. Families held passport photos of missing relatives and were desperate to explore the dank chambers of the State Security building for clues to their fates. Activists say documents found inside the building contain evidence of phone tapping, election rigging and torture. Protesters searched the building looking for political prisoners.
Karim, Egyptian protester: “We’re just trying to make sure that if there are any people inside the Amn al-Dawla building, we need to get them out. These people are political prisoners, and they’ve been there for years, And we’ve seen this in Alexandria and in other places, so we want to make sure that there isn’t anybody in there at this point, and we want to secure those documents or make sure that these documents go to the right hands.”
In news from Gaza, Israeli F-16 fighter jets have bombed a number of buildings under construction at the Islamic University in Gaza City. No one was injured in the attack, but schools officials questioned why Israel would bomb an educational facility.
Salah El Aide, building supervisor: “At night, F-16 jets struck the building. We do not know anything besides this, why it was struck, the reason. We have nothing military here. This is a building that belongs to an educational institution that has no relation to anything. We are very surprised that it was struck.”
In news from Greece, at least 98 immigrant workers have been hospitalized as they take part in a mass hunger strike in an attempt to win legal status. Three hundred migrant workers began the strike six weeks ago. Youssef Bahi is a Moroccan who has helped coordinate the strike.
Youssef Bahi: “They are asking for their legalization, not just for 300 people who make hunger strike, but also they are making this hunger strike for all of immigrants who work and live in Greece. This is the decision of the hunger strikers themselves. They say, ‘We will not stop. We are making our hunger strike until the end.’ When they say 'the end,' they mean until they take their papers or they are ready to die for their demands.”
The U.S. military is coming under increasing criticism over its treatment of U.S. Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning, who has been held in solitary confinement in a Marine brig since June. Manning’s lawyer says his client is now being stripped of all his clothes every night and forced to remain naked for seven hours. Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has compared the treatment of Manning to what happened inside the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A Marine Corps spokesperson said Manning is being held naked to keep him from hurting himself.
As the anti-government protests spread in North Africa and the Middle East, Chinese officials have begun to crack down on dissidents and foreign journalists. On Sunday, about a dozen European and Japanese journalists in Shanghai were detained in an underground bunker-like room for two hours after covering a protest. A journalist with Bloomberg News has reported being beaten by security officers and followed by plainclothes police officers. Undercover officers also recently roughed up a BBC reporter by pushing him into a car and then repeatedly slamming the car door on his legs.
In Elk Grove, California, police are investigating a shooting on Friday that killed a 65-year-old man and left his 78-year-old friend in critical condition. Police believe the shooting may have been a hate crime. Both men were Sikhs and were wearing traditional Dastar headwear. They were killed while taking their daily walk. The Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has offered a $5,000 reward for tips. The group noted that Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims.
In news about Haiti, a group of religious figures, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have signed an open letter to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide supporting his return to Haiti. Aristide has lived in exile since he was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup in 2004.